“Men may change their climate, but they cannot change their nature. A man that goes out a fool cannot ride or sail himself into common sense.” The words of Joseph Addison. Nor, it appears, is he able to drive himself into common sense. That is, if the annual toll of Easter road traffic accidents in Poland is anything by which to go.
The good news is that there was slightly less carnage this year than last, with nineteen persons killed in 187 accidents over the Easter weekend compared with 29 killed in 173 accidents in 2016. The number of persons injured was slightly up at 261 compared with 252 last year. Police said that the stopped 756 drink drivers this year compared with 876 last year. Over 10,000 police offers were out on patrol checking for excessive speed and alcohol.
The causes? As usual – excessive speed, failure to give other drivers the right of way, incorrect overtaking and drink driving. Indeed, even here in Warsaw hardly a day passes without my witnessing a crash of some sort and acts of driving stupidity, such as turning a corner while changing gear while holding a mobile telephone. Since most cars come equipped with hands free technology there really is no excuse. But, of course, the driver is never to blame, it’s always the road or the weather, or whatever. How to combat the arrogance of ignorance and stupidity?
Still, the police soldier on, and those in north eastern Poland are preparing to train US soldiers from a NATO battalion based in Orzysz how to drive safely in Poland. Initially the theoretical training will be given to officers, who wil pass on the information to their men, with classes focused on traffic rules and other Polish regulations. Police spokeswoman Anna Szypczyńska from nearby Pisz told the PAP news agency: “We want to make sure that US soldiers – while travelling in their armoured vehicles or when driving civilian vehicles when off duty – are provided with information about the speed limits in Poland and about the rules governing alcohol consumption, for example about when police have the right to confiscate a driving licence.” She added that the roads in Poland’s Mazurian Lake District, where the soldiers are stationed, are not highways; they are narrow and winding and thus difficult for drivers, with many roadside trees.
Ah yes, the dreaded tree, a particular hazard for government drivers who have been involved in a car crash every month so far this year, with the latest, in April , involving the driver of the car of a senior general. Perhaps this goes some way to explain the government’s apparent animus towards trees, although probably not. To paraphrase Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, to crash one car may be regarded as a misfortune, to crash two looks like carelessness, to crash three looks like incompetence, and to crash four looks like an alarming habit. Perhaps government drivers should visit Pisz for a refresher.
Be that as it may, The US soldiers will also be informed about Poland’s criminal laws to “ensure the security of their stay” in the region, “especially during their free time outside the barracks,” she said. “We want to tell them about offences that are punishable in Poland, such as drinking alcohol in public places or disturbing public order,” Szypczyńska added. According to the police in Pisz, the planned training is purely “preventive in nature” as there have been no cases of police intervention involving NATO soldiers stationed in the area so far.
And when it comes to two wheels, the position is hardly rosier. There have been 700 accidents involving motorcycles on Polish roads so far this year, with several dozen deaths and over 700 persons injured. As the weather improves more cyclists and motorcyclists are out and about. Police have urged folk to be careful and slow down. Again, speaking from experience, the concept of cycles travelling along dedicated cycle lanes seems to be an alien concept with pedestrians regularly impeding progress, and cyclists riding three or four abreast wholly oblivious of other cyclists either behind or heading towards them. After all, what better place to look down at your smart phone than while cycling, listening to your favourite music through earphones. After all, if you can’t see it or hear it, the danger can’t be there.